The enhanced intrigue, puzzlement and speculation about the deepening levels of State rapine by the governments led by the People’s Party (PP) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that the Price Water House Coopers’ (PwC) so-called ‘final analytics report’ has sparked raises the issue of the troubled relationship between donor-related government accountability and democratic accountability.
It has increasingly been claimed that the accountability mechanisms that African governments are subjected to by donor countries often conflict with those for holding these governments domestically accountable by the electorate. This typically happens, for example, when donor countries offer aid or loans for development projects or proposals that have not been sufficiently discussed in local deliberative bodies such as Parliament or without involving the general public.
While the relationship between donor countries, African governments and the local electorate is inherently conflictual, it is often wrongly depicted in mostly negative terms. Cashgate investigations prove this.
It is no longer in doubt that the state in Malawi has become a criminal institution. Politicians see it that way and use it as a means of self-enrichment on a massive scale. This is despite the fact we have a relatively workable democratic system of governance.
How is it that after four democratic elections, we still have governments that are in the criminal business of self-enrichment more than in the business of serving the public? The answer lies in the fact that our democratic institutions have worked only to a point—that is to the level of Members of Parliament (MPs). We have sufficiently held MPs accountable at the ballot box, but not the Executive, especially the President.
Although the last election resulted in the defeat of an incumbent hugely implicated in State rapine, the one that was installed in her place already had serious questions related to possible involvement in similar crimes hanging over his head.
Democratic accountability assumes that those who hold public power are not themselves criminals and thus that they will be able to hold accountable those that transgress the law. But where the leaders are themselves the criminals, they gridlock the mechanisms of accountability in order to prevent them from fulfilling their responsibilities. In Malawi, this has happened in several ways.
Between 2004 and mid-2014, Parliament was reduced to a puppet of the executive or a forum for petty power battles that prevented it from performing its oversight function. During the same period, investigative and prosecutorial agencies were rendered generally ineffective through underfunding, political cooptation and outright political manipulation.
For their part, the professions for bankers, accountants and lawyers barely have had effective self and external regulatory mechanisms. Thus, with a largely illiterate and poor population, politicians have managed to abuse state resources at will, not only to corrupt the electorate but also to undermine further the systems of accountability at all levels of society.
This is why the so-called ‘Cashgate reports’ are not a product of Malawi. They are foreign generated reports.
How is it that so much money could be stolen without the knowledge of the government, and after having been made aware of such loss, the government could not of its own accord launch a single credible comprehensive investigation into it? What do we know about the period of 1994-2009? Are these really new crimes?
‘Cashgate crimes’ are political crimes, meaning government-led crimes implicating the ruling political elites.
One could say that the two cashgate reports constitute a ‘donation of accountability’ to Malawi by the foreign electorate. They succeed where local mechanisms of accountability failed. The electorate in the West now knows that development aid does not reach the grassroots and demands full accountability from their governments for all donor aid.
Here then lies the point at which the interests of foreign and local electorates meet. The electorate of Western governments wants donor money to be spent where a real difference is likely to be made. The local electorate demands that governments use donor money obtained in their name for its intended purpose.
This shows that that local and donor accountability can complement each other to make the African political elite fully accountable to its citizens.
- Danwood Chirwa is a Malawian professor of law based in South Africa. The article was published in the Weekend Nation of June27,2015